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What: LaLiga World Challenge continues its fourth year with RCD Espanyol De Barcelona’s friendly with the MLS Richmond Kickers, associated community activities in Richmond and a subsequent game against FC Cincinnati.
Why it matters: Consistent programs like LaLiga World Challenge can help boost the presence of international clubs in the U.S. and Latin America, in particular with the Hispanic fan base.

With more opportunities for U.S. and Latin American fans to tune in to matches and connect with their favorite clubs and leagues, European soccer is more popular on this side of the Atlantic than ever before. Looking to enhance that, and grab as much of that fandom as well as build new followings, those organizations have implemented various initiatives. Programs like Chelsea FC’s Premier League victory tour through New York last November and ongoing partnership with FC Harlem (@FCHARLEM), the International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCupand various other friendlies are among the most visible.

Consistency in these programs—returning year over year or maintaining a presence in the market like Chelsea (@ChelseaFChas—is vital. One excellent example is the LaLiga World Challenge, now in its fourth year of raising awareness of the top Spanish league across the globe, with Richmond, Va., its most recent stop in July. Supported by the Spanish government, The World Challenge includes friendlies in every city, but, according to organizers, connecting with fans, particularly youth, is the biggest goal.

“Teams like RCD Espanyol De Barcelona participate in a variety of local activities to meet the fans where they’re at; in their stadiums, with their local leagues and alongside their local athletes,” said Nico García, LaLiga’s (@LaLigaEN) Institutional Spokesperson for International Development. “The most important aspect for the teams is really getting close to the fan and therefore having an impact on the community where they’re present. They truly give the community something special- the availability of every single Espanyol player giving their time to Richmond’s kids is a perfect example.”

We want to grow our fanbase in the U.S. and part of that is being accessible to those who support us.

More than 7,000 fans came out to Richmond for RCD Espanyol’s (@RCDEspanyolfriendly with the MLS Richmond Kickers (@RichmondKickerson July 25, a 4-2 victory for the Spaniards but an even bigger win for the kids who participated in pre-event clinics and for those in the region that, save a trip up I-95 to D.C. for the International Champions Cup or a Team USA friendly, may not have had an opportunity to see a top international squad in action.

“It allowed RCD Espanyol de Barcelona to make a lasting impact on Richmond’s youngest fans,” added Garcia, “when the entirety of the RCD Espanyol team coached a clinic alongside several bilingual Richmond Kickers players in their home stadium.”

And while Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga can make an impact in these visits, LaLiga has the commonality of the Spanish language that can make connections with Hispanic fans even greater.

“A huge amount of U.S. cities have Hispanic populations, and LaLiga has amazing fans from those populations-Spanish being a natural connection,” noted Garcia. “However, fans of all types come out for LaLiga World activations in both the U.S. and Latin America. As the league has grown in popularity, because of its entertaining style of play and atmosphere, more and more fans are well-versed in our clubs and players and can’t wait to meet them in person.”

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Nico Garcia (L) and Toni Alegre (R) with Fox19 Richmond’s Alison Montoya (via Twitter)

For Espanyol Director of Marketing Antoni Alegre, the team’s participation is a natural fit, even as the 2018-19 league season looms.

“Pre-season is important, but using our summer time to visit other parts of the world is also important,” said Alegre. “We are nothing without our fans, and our international fans also deserve our full attention. We want to grow our fanbase in the U.S. and part of that is being accessible to those who support us.”

Alegre adds that it’s one the players look forward to as well.

“Some of our players had never been to the U.S. before—to go to a country where they’ve never been and hear a fan yelling out their name after a match is something special,” he explained. “Our club is grateful that LaLiga World challenge gives us what we need to expand our brand internationally, letting us maintain and grow fans.

As with any program like this, it’s what is left behind and the next steps for both LaLiga and Espanyol that are critical. For Garcia, the unique experience, for both fans and players, is key.

“LaLiga clubs have left behind once-in-a-lifetime experiences for the fans they’ve touched,” he said. “We feel confident that every child who’s gotten a chance to play, chat, get an autograph and get to know LaLiga players will go on to be lifetime fans of the club. Every single one of these new fans, more than 7,000 in the stadium in Richmond and more than 16,000 in Cincinnati, is essential. Clubs like RCD Espanyol de Barcelona also look for synergies with local clubs to help develop knowledge-sharing agreements; sharing knowledge about things like youth development and academies in Spain. The clubs often hope to develop further long-term sports projects with the local clubs with whom they collaborate.

cover image: via Richmond Kickers (Facebook)

What: With World Cup over, it can be deemed an overall global success not just in soccer, but in sports business.
Why it matters: Brands were able to use social media to deliver messages more than ever, via nontraditional outlets like Twitch, a trend that will only increase.

The FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCupis now in the rear view mirror, as soccer friendlies and several months of MLS (@MLSnow take center stage in North America, as global fans of “The Beautiful Game” await training and then the opening of the elite European leagues in the late summer.

The lessons learned from World Cup activation and engagement continue to grow. The effective implementation of social campaigns tied to the games were in record numbers, Spanish language broadcasts in the U.S. drew solid audiences despite the fact that the U.S. did not qualify for the event, and many of the elite Spanish language countries exited a little earlier than expected. Still the drama and life displayed by first timers like Peru and the continued growth and engagement of Mexico led to an even bigger bounce than what was expected making World Cup in Russia an overall global success not just in soccer, but in sports business.

…[B]rands that invested in social were able to find a new engagement platform, especially for digital first millennial consumers, that had not existed before.
credit: Soccer.ru

In the U.S., the change of leadership at the top of USA Soccer (@USASoccer), and the announcement that the 2026 Cup will be coming to North America has also given rise to even more hope that soccer as a property will still see its biggest days ahead.

With that forward looking idea comes one more look back at World Cup engagement, this time through an engagement platform becoming more and more prevalent as sports looks to be customized and digital first. Twitch (@Twitch ‏), the Amazon owned streaming service, has become a monster and go to platform for esports for several years, and now leagues like the NBA have looked to create more formal relationships as a custom screen experience for fans. The NBA G league (@nbagleagueexperimented with great success on Twitch last season, and more and more relationships will be coming, especially as Amazon itself continues its ramp up with broadcast rights for major sports leagues around the world.

Portada worked with Stream Hatchet (@StreamHatchet), one of the world’s elite digital measurement services, to look at Twitch and the World Cup, and how and if the official brands tied to World Cup actually gained share of voice across the channels created by fans on Twitch before and then during the World Cup. Given the fact that Twitch had no official relationship with FIFA, the share of voice for brands might be expected to be small. However what played out was actually interesting, as it shows that brands that invested in social were able to find a new engagement platform, especially for digital first millennial consumers, that had not existed before.

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courtesy Wanda

Who were the brands that won out over the thousands of Twitch channels and conversations created specifically around World Cup? There were five that entered conversations best: Wanda, Hyundai, Adidas, Visa and Coke, with the engagement and chatter about the brands on Twitch starting before the Games actually began, and then peaking as the semi-finals and finals came into view.

Given the savviness of Asian consumers around esports and the use of Twitch as a medium of choice, the success of engagement for brands like Wanda and Hyundai makes great sense. However to see global brands like Visa and Coke, and an apparel brand like Adidas be in conversations throughout the course of the Games opens a very unique window for future engagement. Keep in mind that little to no sponsorship dollars were spent in conjunction with Twitch, so all the engagement mentions and conversations, sometimes as large as 50,000, all game about in a generic and authentic form for the young consumers watching and talking about the World Cup on the platform.

It provides a great litmus test into the power of both a custom streaming channel, and a second screen experience not just for the World Cup, but for any sports event looking to engage and activate going forward. Now with such a massive spend by brands on traditional channels, will dollars suddenly flow to Twitch, or even other second screen streaming experiences like Facebook Live, that easily in the short term? No. However this snapshot (below) by Stream Hatchet and Portada shows that there is growing value that has been anecdotal, and now is quantifiable, as brands looks to engage new consumers on a platform they are comfortable on and more and more used to using.

While focus remains on big screen for now, the handheld, custom experience continues to make inroads, the proof, even in World Cup, is now there to see.

Cover image: Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency

What: Colombia vs. Venezuela (in Miami) and Argentina vs. Guatemala (in Los Angeles) soccer friendlies are set for Sept. 7
Why it matters: Soccer in the U.S. was dealt a blow with the National Team’s absence from FIFA World Cup, but the sport is stronger than ever in the Hispanic community here, with these two friendlies and the International Champions Cup hitting this summer.

FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCupwill be contested half a world away, but supporters and natives of four Latin American countries will be able to see their favorite national teams in action in friendlies set for September 7. Colombia will take on Venezuela at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, while traditional powerhouse Argentina will battle Guatemala at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The matchups and locations lean heavily on the popularity of the sport among the Hispanic community in South Florida and Southern California and beyond. The first is a prelude to the planned MLS expansion into the market (@futbolmiamimls) set to debut in 2020, led by David Beckham, and the second comes with the timely announcement that a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Guatemalan relief efforts following the devastating Mount Fuego volcano eruption.

The friendlies, along with the MLS expansion and numerous U.S. locations in this summer’s International Champions Cup are strong signals that promoters and marketers aren’t giving up on the sport…

The matches feature successful squads in Colombia (ranked No. 16 in the world) and Argentina (No. 8), which will both begin Group Play at World Cup in the next week in Russia, battling upstarts in Venezuela and Guatemala, neither of whose sides have ever qualified for the event. And why they may not be marquee pairings, marketing organizers CMN Sports (@CMNEvents) and Relevent (@C_Stillitanoare hoping the World Cup boost in interest in the sport here carries over into September.

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Credit: Danilo Borges-copa2014.gov.br

“CMN Sports is excited to partner with Relevent to showcase these talented teams,” said Henry Cárdenas, President of CMN Sports, in a statement. “Colombia is a World Cup contender and has shown enormous potential, making them a very tough opponent for Venezuela. We hope fans will enjoy this South American rivalry at one of the most iconic stadiums in the country.”

“Relevent is committed to bringing the incredible culture and enthusiasm of international soccer to the U.S. and this match is sure to deliver that excitement to new and established fans alike,” said Charlie Stillitano, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Relevent. “We look forward to celebrating both of these national teams and their fans, while honoring all of those affected by the natural disaster in Guatemala.”

The friendlies, along with the MLS expansion and numerous U.S. locations in this summer’s International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCupare strong signals that promoters and marketers aren’t giving up on the sport despite the absence of the U.S. National Team from the World Cup.

Cover Image: credit Tasnim News Agency